Monday, October 13, 2014

Cancellations & Delays

Flight #98-99 - United 5200 and 1187
Albuquerque (ABQ) – Newark (EWR)
Monday, October 14, 2014
Depart: 12:30PM / Arrive: 10:54PM
Duration: 8hr 31min (incl. 2 hr layover)
Earned: 1,836 miles
Cost: 30,813 Points + $112 / person
Redemption Value: 1.25 cents / mile
Lifetime Miles: 189,273 miles

We had a very uneventful flight over to Albuquerque on Friday morning, so we were hoping for the same on our return flight on Monday. Unfortunately, things have a way of balancing out, and our Monday was more stressful than we would have liked. Here was our original flight itinerary:

1. United 5200 departing Albuquerque at 12:30PM, arriving Chicago at 4:17PM
2. United 411 departing Chicago at 7:50PM, arriving Newark 10:54PM

It was about 8AM on Monday when we received a text message from United that our 12:30PM flight was now delayed until 1:30PM. Not a big deal since we were going to be stuck in Chicago for a 3.5 hour layover. So this actually allowed us to have an extra hour exploring Albuquerque instead of O'Hare Airport Chili's. So we planned to get to the ABQ Airport and drop off our Avis rental car around 12PM, giving us plenty of time for a 1:30PM departure.

We had free breakfast provided by Holiday Inn and casually packed our things. We thought we'd swing by Target around 10AM to pick up some new Prepaid REDcards, when we received another United text message now stating the flight was now departing at 1PM instead of the rescheduled 1:30PM.

Uh oh. If they could move it up, then we couldn't risk showing up at 12PM, because they could potentially move it up back to the original 12:30PM departure. So we revised our plan and decided to arrive at 11AM to drop off the car and have an 11:30AM sit-down lunch at the ABQ airport after we checked our luggage and got through security.

Lesson #1: Always triple check your flight status
As soon as we placed our order of sliders and cheese fries, my father started checking the flight status for both our flights, even after doing so 2x earlier this morning.

He always triple checks. After all, things change.

He not only checked the flight we're actually flying on, but also the flight before ours (the one that our expected aircraft is currently flying) so he can be sure, because they don't always update all the following flights. There he saw that our plane was coming in from Chicago and now scheduled to land at 12:45PM, which gave him confidence that we'd depart around 1:30PM.

But then when he checked the connecting flight to Newark, his face turned white. United 411 departing Chicago at 7:50PM was just cancelled!

He apologized to my mother and me, leaving us to finish our food while he went to the United gate agent to find another way home.

Lesson #2: Do Both - Call and Go In Person
Long story short, the first gate agent was completely useless (and indifferent). She couldn't find any other flights for us and apologized about us being stranded in Chicago. Predicting this would happen just by looking at how she handled herself (prejudice may be wrong, but it can also be accurate), my father was simultaneously on the phone with United Premier Desk who somehow found 3 seats available on the earlier 6:12PM flight to Newark.

Fortunately, this actually meant we'd get home 1.5 hours earlier than scheduled. Unfortunately, we had a much shorter window to get off our first flight and run to the second flight. We'd arrive in Chicago at 5:17PM, and boarding for the Newark flight would start at 5:42PM. With the short connection time, my father then asked the inept gate agent to reprint his new boarding passes. And for whatever reason, she couldn't print them out. Her co-worker then told her what to do, and voila - 3 new boarding passes.

Lesson #3: Don't Forget Your Bags
And while the first gate agent should have pro-actively asked if my father had checked any luggage as she printed new boarding passes, she didn't.

My father, however, knew to ask  the competent agent if his checked bags would make the new flight. She asked for his baggage claim tickets and had the crew go out and re-tag the bags to be transferred onto the 6:12PM flight.

Lesson #4: Prioritize
Now we usually travel with my umbrella stroller which we use through the airport and gate check on the jetbridge. After we land at our destination, it usually comes out on the jetbridge as soon as we get off the plane. However, we've been on many flights where the stroller comes out very late or not at all (ending up in the baggage claim).

Since we knew we didn't have that much time to make our next flight, my mother made the executive decision to just leave the stroller when it didn't come out in a reasonable amount of time.

Had we missed our flight, we'd be out at least $200 for a hotel in Chicago since all the other flights were full. Not worth risking over a $50 stroller. As it turned out, it never came to the jetbridge in Chicago as the crew put it with the regular checked bags so it did show up at the baggage claim in Newark. Good choice, Mom!

Lesson #5: Never Get Complacent
We ended up making the 6:12PM flight, though it did sit on the tarmac for about another 90 minutes. By the time we finally arrived in Newark, it was just before 11PM - around the same time as our originally scheduled flight that was cancelled.

We usually book a car back to Manhattan using Dial 7 or Carmel - which would run between $70-75 including tip and tolls. However, my father had a $10 credit on Uber and heard they had a flat UberX fare of $68 from Newark Airport to Manhattan.

While he was very comfortable with Dial7/Carmel, he didn't love (a) their run down cars, (b) drivers who would take 15 minutes to get there or (c) the hassle of the payment process at the end. With UberX, he had his $10 statement credit, a very clean almost new car and paperless payment.

So he tried it out and UberX came through with flying colors, though he did have to get a second UberX driver after the first one asked us to inconveniently meet him upstairs at Departures.

Despite all the stressful changes and curveballs, we made it home safe and sound at the same time we were originally scheduled to. I suppose that doesn't sound like a big accomplishment, but there were a lot of passengers who got stranded in Albuquerque and Chicago that evening with little (if any) compensation from the airlines.

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